It’s official… pretty much. Planet Earth has a brand new country… almost. In 2005, the two sides in a long, bloody Sudanese civil war signed a peace agreement, part of which was a referendum regarding the secession of the South from the North. That vote took place earlier this month, and early results have shown more than 99.5% of Southern Sudanese voted to split, forming their own nation, beginning in July. While the results have been greeted with jubilation in the South, many questions remain about what the future holds for people on both sides of the new border.
The biggest issue is the fertile, oil rich border region of Abyei, which remains hanging in the balance. In fact, the region is supposed to have it’s own separate referendum to decide which side of the line it will fall on in the new scheme, but the two sides have thus far been unable to agree to terms for such a vote. While much of the violence that has plagued Sudan in the past has died down since the 2005 peace treaty, it has simmered and flashed in Abyei. An outbreak of fighting in 2008 is seen as the worst breach of the agreement so far. Today, the two ethnic groups at the centre of the dispute seem to be digging in, ready to fight for their claims to the land, threatening to reignite the civil war. The region is populated mostly by a group called the Dinka Ngok, a subsection of the Dinka, the south’s largest ethnic group. The black African, mostly Christian or Animist Dinka Ngok are settled in Abyei, farming the land. Every year, northern Arabic, Muslim nomadic cattle herders, the Misseriya traverse the region from north to south in search of fertile pastures for their cattle. The two groups often come into conflict over land use while the UN, the UA, and the international community watch helplessly or haplessly. As the country splits in two and this crucial plot of land lies in dispute, both sides expect that the armies of Khartoum in the north and Juba in the south could once again become involved. Both presidents, Salva Kiir Mayardit in the south and Omar al-Bashir in the north claim to be in favour of peaceful resolution to the conflict, but the Dinka Ngok claim that Khartoum is pushing the Misseriya to take up arms, while the Misseriya believe the same about Juba and the Dinka Ngok. Two things is clear in Abyei. Even with an unprecedented show of democracy, a resolution is far from being reached and the possibility of another outbreak of war is definitely there.
Another major issue is what to do with the oil revenue. The oil rich regions of Sudan straddle the border, with about 80% falling in the south. The governments have agreed, in principle, to revenue sharing from oil. They have not, however, agreed on terms of an agreement. Looking at satellite images of Sudan as a whole, the division between north and south is easy to spot. The south is made up of lush, green tropical forests, swamps, and fertile grasslands, while the north is mostly desert, excepting the Nile corridor, beginning just south of Khartoum. Besides the well known suffering in the region of Darfur, which falls in the north, Southern Sudan is much worse off than the north in terms of health, infrastructure, and access to food. This is because al-Bashir has historically spent the vast majority of his capital in the north. If he loses the lion’s share of oil profits, it will be a great blow to his coffers. What this would mean for his favourite whipping boy, Darfur, is likely even less funding and further neglect and misery. If he were to spend money on the black Africans in Darfur at the expense of his cronies in and around Khartoum, the backlash would not be pretty, either for the president or for the people already suffering in Darfur. In the meantime, with more oil money than ever before, the south might finally be able to slowly build itself into a more prosperous country.
The overwhelming vote for southern independence has already brought out animated and artistic celebrations in the south. A group of the nation’s most prominent poets gathered to write the lyrics for the new national anthem, while groups assembled to put those lyrics to music. In another show of unprecedented democracy, this one reminiscent of reality TV, competitors performed their versions of the anthem in front of a packed theatre and a panel of judges. A group from the University of Juba were declared the winners with their rendition which sounds very traditional, much like every other national anthem in the world. Several competitors were cut short, Simon Cowell style, for failing to properly read the instructions of the competition and setting the lyrics to the tune of modern pop songs. With each song, the crowd cheered and cried, overtly displaying their new national pride. In the north, however, there is fear among the artistic community, especially among musicians who feel that the split will lead to the reintroduction of Islamic Sharia law, which reigned from 1989 until 2005. Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, northern musicians have once again been allowed to perform their craft. Many have become stars since being allowed to make modern music and write about subjects like love, outlawed under Sharia law. Now, with the majority of the Christian and Animist influence removed, there is a high possibility that Islamist laws will return, snuffing out artistic expression and, even more frightening, returning women to the role of secondary citizens. If this is the case, how will women and artists react after six years of freedom, and what will be the consequences?
The peace agreement of 2005 and the referendum of 2011 have done a great deal to bring stability to one of Africa’s most volatile nations. The civil war is over, personal rights and freedoms are being enjoyed like never before, and there is hope for salvation from poverty and underdevelopment. But, as the process of secession unfolds,